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Roma-ness in Music, Music in Roma-ness: The Musical Craft of Slovak Roma in Klenovec and Kokava (PhD project)
On the basis of long-term ethnographic research (2013–2019) with the community of Romani musicians in Klenovec (Slovakia), this article develops an inductive theoretical model explaining distinct features in the local performance of Romani ethnicity. It discusses the theory of ethnicity construction through the lens of exclusion processes involving the non-Romani majority – the pariahdom boundary – and the Romani adaptation to the conditions of this boundary. Through this theoretical model, the article aims to answer two central questions: (1) How is the pariahdom boundary in Klenovec constructed and maintained from the perspective of non-Roma? (2) Which common strategies do Roma use to adapt to the condition of the pariahdom boundary? The article shows that Romani musicianship in Klenovec is a special form of ethnic performance that allows for the effects of the pariahdom boundary to be minimized without sacrificing individual Roma-ness. Keywords: Roma; Romani ethnicity; ethnic boundaries; pariahdom boundary; boundary markers; semiotics, Romani music, Slovakia
// Synopsis: French photographers Claude and Marie-José Carret first came to Klenovec in 1984. They were immediately fascinated by the life of the local musicians and have returned every year since, capturing generations of the town’s famous musicians. Their work reveals the depth of Klenovec’s musical roots and how characters from the past live on in the memories and practices of local people. The short film Rooted Musicians from Klenovec: Life in Photographs depicts a joint effort of the French photographers and a Czech anthropologist to repatriate images to the places where they were taken. // Public screening: 21/05/2022 | Museum Night Festival | Museum of Romani Culture | Brno 19/05/2022 | Romistické utopie #67 | Kampus Hybernská | Prague 16/06/2021 | Eyes on Music | Istituto Interculturale di Studi Musicali | Venice 08/06/2021 | Ethnomusicology Film Club | Durham [online] 08/04/2021 | BFE Annual Conference | Bath [online]
On the basis of long-term ethnographic research (2013–2019) with the community of Romani musicians in Klenovec (Slovakia), this article develops an inductive theoretical model explaining distinct features in the local performance of Romani ethnicity. It discusses the theory of ethnicity construction through the lens of exclusion processes involving the non-Romani majority – the pariahdom boundary – and the Romani adaptation to the conditions of this boundary. Through this theoretical model, the article aims to answer two central questions: 1) How is the pariahdom boundary in Klenovec constructed and maintained from the perspective of non-Roma? 2) Which common strategies do Roma use to adapt to the condition of the pariahdom boundary? The article shows that Romani musicianship in Klenovec is a special form of ethnic performance that allows for the effects of the pariahdom boundary to be minimised without sacrificing individual Roma-ness.
This PhD thesis is an ethnographic case study exploring practices of professional music- making among Roma in two municipalities in south-central Slovakia: Klenovec and Kokava nad Rimavicou. It is based on long-term ethnographic research carried out from 2013; most of the ethnographic data presented in this thesis were collected between 2018 and 2019 during a dedicated period of PhD fieldwork. The introductory chapter outlines the main research questions by describing the development of the research focus for the thesis, and it introduces the principal research methods – ethnographic and visual. The first findings chapter is an ethnographic description of the location in question, with a special focus on socio-cultural, socio-political and socio-economic conditions and the lives of local Roma under these conditions. The second chapter deals with Romani ethnic identity in the locality; it employs theories of (Romani) ethnicity, describes how this is typically manifest and discusses its significance for professional music-making. The third chapter is based on theories from economic anthropology and looks at Romani professional music-making from the perspective of economic exchange, considering it as an income-generating activity and a distinctive cultural practice. The fourth and last findings chapter looks at Roma-ness in music – a form of enactment of Romani ethnic specificity in the context of professional music-making – framed by impression management theories. The concluding chapter revisits the research questions, indicates paths for further research, critically evaluates the research methodology and reflects upon the positionality of the research. The thesis is complemented with audio-visual material resulting from various visual methods – work with photographs, video and film. These are accessible online through links and QR codes.
// Photographs by: Claude & Marie-José Carrets // Research & Production: Petr Nuska // Collaborators: Jana Ambrózova, Mária Bálintova, Michal Čapek, Samuel Horlor, Ivana Linhartová, Hana Kosová, Vladimír Sendrei, Pavel Slabý, Stanislava Zvarová //In 1984, we were invited to Klenovec by Ľubomír Moncoľ, who was a cultural diplomat at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Paris. At that point, we did not know that we would be returning regularly to Klenovec for the next ten years to see our great friend Oľga Hrušková. Walking around Klenovec one day, we met a Romani family. The man from the family was a fiddler in the local folklore group, and he invited us to his home and allowed us to take some photographs. This is where our exchange with the Romani culture could have ended; nevertheless, we returned back that summer for more photography opportunities, revealing to us that this inconspicuous village was flooded with exceptional musicians. Receiving such a warm reception, we realised that our photographs had become conveyors of memories for these musicians. The violinist and his wife, whom we had met the previous summer, had passed away. But they were still present in our photographs, which were beginning to circulate from hand to hand. That was the moment when we knew our Klenovec story had really begun. Today, we often travel to other countries in central Europe but we always find a few days to visit Slovakia and to stop by in our beloved Klenovec, catching up with our old musician friends and their families. // Claude and Marie-José Carret – The photographers // “Whenever a boy was born here in Klenovec, he would be given a bow. And if he grasped it and pulled it, it was obvious that he would be a musician!” That is how many stories I heard about Romani music-making in Klenovec began. Anyone aware of the curiosity of young children might wonder if Klenovec could really end up with so many musicians. But it is only people who have not visited the village that could have these doubts. “We are rooted musicians,” one older musician explained to me. The first Roma came to Klenovec with two families of musicians invited by the local aristocratic family of Kubínyi in the 18th century. And with employment opportunities in the village always limited, it was music that ensured families’ livelihood, passing proudly from one generation to the next. In recent years many things have changed: the audience, the repertoire, and even the musical instruments (which are, moreover, no longer in the exclusive possessions of men). Still today, though, these professionals produce great music; the local folklore ensemble Vepor travels and entertains across the length and breadth of Slovakia. And this is not to mention the countless village residents who play music of every genre imaginable for their own pleasure. The exhibition of photography by Claude and Marie-José Carret takes us back to the 1980s and 1990s, when the craft was performed by the fathers and grandfathers of those who are taking it forward today. The photographs are alive with the rich chords of Romani music that has echoed around Klenovec for generations and is likely to be heard for many years to come. // Petr Nuska – anthropologist & ethnomusicologist
Presented at the Gypsy Lore Society Annual Meeting and Conference on Romani Studies, 9th of September 2021 // Audiovisual record of the presentation: https://youtu.be/dgbmN1_thRo // Abstract: Roma are well-known in the field of ethnicity studies as a group that even “the most experienced and best-informed academics in the subject are unable to easily define” (Law and Kovats 2018, 39). Their peculiar position in the ethnicity theories was already outlined in Barth’s renowned article on ethnic boundaries. He considered the “gypsies” (sic) as an examplar of so-called pariah groups, which are defined by the active rejection of host societies (Barth 1969, 31). This pointed to the distinctive feature of Romani ethnic identity. Surrounding majorities’ active rejection of Roma was later identified as “a major factor in the preservation of” and even “a necessary condition for the maintenance of Romani ethnic identity” in various settings (Gmelch 1986, 323; Lee 1997, 69). Figurative references to Roma as pariahs can be found abundantly in contemporary literature (e.g. Hancock 1987; Vassilev 2004; Pogány 2012). This paper contributes to the discussions on Romani ethnicity by presenting an ethnographic case study from Klenovec in Slovakia; explaining distinct features of the local Romani ethnicity performance. As a starting point, it argues that Romani ethnicity is, indeed, significantly formed by the pariahdom boundary – an exclusive demarcation of the non-Roma majority – constituted by specific types of ethnic boundary markers (cf. e.g. Wallman 1978). As a response, the local Roma use diverse strategies to escape from the pariahdom boundary, including various degrees of social integration, acquisition of non-Roma socioeconomic habits, and undercommunicating their ethnic identity. All these strategies predominantly aim to dilute the markers of the pariahdom boundary. Romani music-making in Klenovec represents a significantly different response to these conditions. Being a Romani musician allows the most convenient socioeconomic adaptation to the environment of the disadvantaged region in question. Moreover, professional Romani musicians from Klenovec have a set of proved strategies for enacting ethnic boundary markers – on the musical stages and beyond them – which in other contexts may be considered troublesome and harmful. Professional musicianship allows for the high level of socioeconomic integration while escaping the pariahdom boundary’s harmful effects. At the same time, it legitimises a proud enactment of Roma-ness. It allows being (and staying) a Rom. Thus, musicianship plays an integral part in the construction of Romani ethnic identity. As expressed by one musician from Klenovec: “If you don’t play here, you’re not a human.” The paper is based on ethnographic research carried out between 2013–2021. // Keywords: Romani ethnicity, Romani musicianship, Ethnic boundaries, Pariahdom, Boundary markers, Performance of Roma-ness // References Barth, Fredrik. 1969. “Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference.” The British Journal of Sociology 21 (2): 231. https://doi.org/10.2307/588416. Gmelch, Sharon Bohn. 1986. “Groups That Don’t Want In: Gypsies and Other Artisan, Trader, and Entertainer Minorities.” Annual Review of Anthropology 15: 307–30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2155764. Hancock, Ian F. 1987. The Pariah Syndrome : An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution. Karoma Publishers. Law, Ian, and Martin Kovats. 2018. Rethinking Roma : Identities, Politicisation and New Agendas. Palgrave Macmillan UK. Lee, Ken. 1997. “Australia: Sanctuary or Cemetery for Romanies?” In Romani Culture and Gypsy Identity, edited by T. A. (Thomas Alan) Acton and Gary. Mundy, 203. University of Hertfordshire Press. Pogány, István. 2012. “Pariah Peoples: Roma and the Multiple Failures of Law in Central and Eastern Europe.” Social & Legal Studies 21 (3): 375–93. https://doi.org/10.1177/0964663911429152. Vassilev, Rossen. 2004. “The Roma of Bulgaria: A Pariah Minority.” The Global Review of Ethnopolitics 3 (2): 40–51. https://doi.org/10.1080/14718800408405164. Wallman, Sandra. 1978. “The Boundaries of ‘Race’: Processes of Ethnicity in England.” Man 13 (2): 200. https://doi.org/10.2307/2800245.
Presented at Society for Ethnomusicology 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting, 29th of October 2021 // Audiovisual record of the presentation: https://youtu.be/Xy6YFBn17ws // Abstract: The motion-picture camera has been an important part of ethnomusicologists' toolkit for decades. With the recent democratisation of technology, it has become nearly a compulsory component of contemporary research. Despite the boom of technology, the number of produced 'ethnomusicological films' has not increased accordingly. Most of the research footage seems to end up on ethnomusicologists' hard drives; never shown to any potential audience. Meanwhile, the music cultures worldwide - including those which ethnomusicologists used to label as 'indigenous' - started producing their own motion-picture visuals and distributing them widely in the online global world. An important question has emerged with this phenomenon - do motion-picture cameras have the potential for ethnomusicology in the 2020s other than just producing never-to-be-seen footage for ethnomusicologists' hard drives? This methodological paper will examine new possibilities in the field of visual ethnomusicology, triggered by the massive democratisation of film- and video-making technology. These include new online distribution channels, video-sharing services, and social media videos, which have gained a new dimension during the recent global pandemic. It will introduce the opportunities of decolonising the motion-picture media and incorporating the research participants' perspective into research outcomes. The paper will reflect on the authors' visual-ethnomusicological project carried out between 2015-2021. It will discuss the development of its research methodology, which was much influenced by aesthetical, technological, and ethical challenges that the 2020s brought to the field of visual ethnomusicology. The presentation will showcase audio-visual samples of the author's project.
Záznam přednášky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBmfA28SK6A // Anotace: „Tady byla vždy o práci nouze, takže když chtěli rodiče dobře provdat svoji dceru, vyhledávali muzikanty.“ Tak se traduje mezi Romy v Klenovci a Kokavě na středním Slovensku. Po mnoho generací bylo hudební řemeslo ve zdejších romských rodinách tím nejlepším způsobem živobytí. Bylo svébytnou odpovědí na problematickou socioekonomickou situaci přilehlého regionu a na neméně problematické soužití s neromskou majoritou. Hudební řemeslo totiž vždy umělo zajistit relativní blahobyt stejně jako respekt romských i neromských sousedů. Do dnešních dní je proto v mnoha zdejších romských rodinách vyvíjen tlak na všechny narozené syny (neboť hudební řemeslo je tradičně záležitostí mužů), aby pokračovali v tomto staletí trvajícím řemesle. Tato přednáška analyzuje hudební řemeslo klenoveckých a kokavských Romů z perspektivy ekonomické antropologie. Zaměřuje se na specializaci muzikantů a vytváření tzv. hudebních nik, díky nimž se muzikanti stylově, žánrově i performačně specializují, aby v muzicírování zajistili stabilní příjmy. Přednáška se dále dotýká fenoménu auto-prezentace a řízení dojmů (impression management), při němž romští muzikanti hrdě používají znaky své etnické identity, které v kontextu mimo hudební podium často vystupují jako nelichotivé etnické stereotypy. Na závěr se přednáška dotkne proměn hudebního řemesla v souvislosti s proměnami hudebních nik – tedy socioekonomickou proměnou regionu, hudebního vkusu muzikantů i platící klientely. Prezentované poznatky vycházejí z dlouhodobého etnografického výzkumu prováděného mezi lety 2013–2020.
Abstract: The paper examines traditional methods of musical teaching and learning of professional Romani musicians in the region Klenovec and Kokava. These musicians are well known around Slovakia and, ever since recording a soundtrack for a Hans Zimmer Hollywood movie, their reputation has spread further afield. It might seem surprising, however, that despite their high level of musical capability, the vast majority of that region’s Romani musician do not have any formal musical education. The paper suggests that absence of formal music-educational system does not automatically imply absence of music-educational process as such. Ongoing research points out that their educational methods create an alternative educational system that differs markedly from standard curriculum-based institutional structures and therefore hones their musicality in different ways. The system also reflects other sociocultural traits of traditional Romani culture, such as family environment and kinship patterns, gender power structures, ethnicity construction and socioeconomic status. The paper also re-evaluates how music education methods in the context of oral music cultures are categorised and understood in contemporary ethnomusicology and anthropology of music. // Presented at the "Traditional Music and Dance in Contemporary Culture(s)" conference in Nitra, 17th of October 2018. https://www.conferencenitra.sk // Audiovisual record of the presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iClcQe2aA_g
This article analyses intergenerational transmission of musical knowledge and skills, (i.e., methods of musical teaching and learning) in the community of Romani musicians in Klenovec and Kokava in Slovakia. With the help of theories on music education (Merriam, Van den Bos, Turino, etc.), it compares the Slovak institutionalized system of music education with traditional methods of musical learning and teaching inside the musicians' communities in Klenovec and Kokava. Specifics of Romani methods of acquiring music are discussed, with particular focus on how these specifics are manifested in actual music-making and music itself. The article is based upon ethnographic data collected during the author's own ethnographic research (2015).
This thesis analyses transgenerational transmission of musical knowledge and skills, (i.e. methods of musical teaching and learning) in the community of Romani musicians in Klenovec and Kokava in Central Slovakia. The thesis questions widespread myths about innate musicality of Roma and suggests an alternative explanation for postulated musical excellence of Roma through differences in their musical education. In the first part of the thesis, the question of musical-talent heritability both in social and natural science is discussed. It concludes that despite the long discussions and recent hints in the field of genetics, we cannot consider an inborn genetic component for Romani musicality. In the second part, theoretical differences in music-educational systems are discussed (Merriam, Van den Bos, Turino) and the majority’s institutionalised system of musical education of the Czech Republic and Slovakia is presented. The third part is a comparison of the institutionalised system with traditional methods of musical learning and teaching inside musicians’ community in Klenovec and Kokava. Specifics of these methods and their contribution to construction of Romani musicality are discussed. This part is based upon data collected during the author’s own ethnographic research (2013–2015). The final part of the thesis deals with current change of music-educational methods which Romani musicians in Klenovec and Kokava are nowadays experiencing.